Although there are pretty much endless hiking opportunities in and around the Olympic Peninsula area, sometimes it’s good to head east for a different perspective and visual stimulation. The hike to Snow Lake is located in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness near North Bend. A $5 Northwest Forest Pass is required for this visit. Park in the Alpental Ski area lot, which can fill up rather quickly on the weekends. My friends and I decided to make our journey there early on a Monday morning mid-July. There was plenty of parking, but there were tons of people making the same trek.
I was looking for a hike that wasn’t too terribly far from home. (Approximately 2.25 hours from Union.) I also wanted it to be tougher than a paved path, but not so tough I could not handle it. In addition, it needed to have a view of something spectacular! Now for a casual, out-of-shape hiker like myself, when a hike is rated average, I have to translate that in to fairly difficult. After much research, we narrowed down the options to Snow Lake. 7.25 miles round trip, 1,800 ft elevation gain, and fairly easy. Fairly easy if you’re young, agile, in good shape and were never a smoker! The first 1.75 miles of narrow, rocky, rugged paths are a steady low incline with moderate elevation gain. As you climb up these first few miles you get incredible views of the opposing peaks including Chair Peak. We could see the two chair lifts running up the mountain sides across from us. As you climb there are occasional breaks in the trees where you can see far behind you the buildings around the Alpental Ski area and the parking lot where your car is just a tiny looking cube. And as you look at the ground you’ve covered and you look up to see where you still have to go, you wonder how on earth are we climbing to a lake? It’s also difficult to tell exactly where you’re going up to as the path blends into the visual of the mountain side. Unless of course there are hikers ahead of you…then you can really get a good idea of how high you’re going to climb!
At the 1.75 mile mark, there is an off-shoot of the trail that leads to another lake. But Snow Lake was our destination, so we took the path to the sharp right and continued on. At this point in the journey, the trail gets pretty steep. It is another mile of steep, rocky switchbacks. Now remember, this is coming from the mind of an unseasoned hiker. Other hikers were gliding uphill like it was nothing. One cool guy was carrying his dog like a baby to protect the dogs paws from rocks! I could barely get myself up there, let alone carry a full grown pup! There are not many places along this trail to step off to the side to rest and catch your breath, so if you see one and need one, take it! All of the hikers we encountered were kind and courteous, encouraging even as I huffed and puffed my way up there. One kind man on his way down reminded me it didn’t matter WHEN I got there, just that I arrived!
After the mile of steady switchbacks, we reach the end of my journey. When the ground levels out, the path splits left and right. To the right there is a path that leads to giant boulders, a dead end. And to the left, the path curves around and starts to descend. We went left. We climbed onto the boulders and were treated with a beautiful and amazing view of Snow Lake from above. For a 95 degree day down on the ground, the weather up top was extremely different. It was very windy, cold and damp and a misty, cloudy fog continued to roll across the lake in spurts immediately driven away by the wind to be followed by a new burst of fog. But the view was stunning. We sat on the boulder, enjoyed our snacks and lots of water while we watched the weather perform a ballet across the lake. If you continue on the trail, it will lead you down to the lake itself, but my tired little legs could not handle going all the way down. Round trip to the boulder is about 6 miles. And of course, the way down was much easier, although not too gently on the knees. So while the journey may not have been easy (for me), I will admit it was about as easy as climbing the side of a small mountain could ever be! And it was most definitely worth the sense of accomplishment and stellar views.